The Federal Communications Commission last week said it will add 195MHz of spectrum to Wi-Fi’s 5GHz band. This move is designed to relieve congestion in Wi-Fi networks, particularly in areas of widespread simultaneous usage like airports and sports stadiums. It could help your home network too, but not right away—routers available in stores today may not be able to use the new spectrum at all.
Finding out definitively whether today’s routers will support the new spectrum is difficult, partly because the FCC still has to issue specific rules governing its use. We’ve hit up router vendors and other industry people to find out whether software updates might let current routers access the new spectrum. While the results were a bit muddled, it seems safe to say no one is guaranteeing today’s routers will get the benefit of the new 195MHz. Even the latest routers supporting the ultra-modern 802.11ac standard may be left behind.
Cisco refused to comment at all, telling us only “Cisco has not made any announcements about this so cannot discuss at this time.” Our inquiries to Netgear and Buffalo haven’t resulted in any information, either. The most detailed response we got from a router vendor was from D-Link, whose associate VP of Product Development Will Brown provided us with this statement:
After discussion with our current chip vendors, we understand that the industry is lobbying to move this licensed spectrum to unlicensed spectrum. In order to take advantage of this spectrum, the chip vendors are reporting that updated chipsets will be required if approved. Our product development philosophy is to provide our customers with the best value. Regardless, if we can achieve this additional feature by a firmware [update] we would commit to providing it as long as it doesn’t have detrimental effects on the devices’ current features and performance.
As this new feature (spectrum) is released there are a number of go-to-market items that we are evaluating including competitive requirements, cost of implementation, education to our customers, and standards compliance.
Given that D-Link says it may ultimately come down to chip vendors, we checked with Broadcom, Marvell, and Qualcomm Atheros to see what they have to say. So far, we’ve received a response from Qualcomm, which said “It is true that none of the existing routers can take advantage of the potential additional channels the FCC is planning to un-license. The reason for that is current dual-band routers and chipsets that are in them are designed to support already unlicensed spectrum. The new proposed 5GHz channels are in the higher 5GHz band so that new chips support to support this will be required.”
While current Qualcomm chips don’t support the additional (or newly “unlicensed”) spectrum, a revised version of the chips that will support it is in the works. “Qualcomm Atheros 11ac Wi-Fi products are designed to support these new additional channels of the 5GHz spectrum and will be ready when the FCC’s rulemaking process will be kicked off,” the company said.
Broadcom has weighed in a little more optimistically, saying “There is a possibility that our existing 11ac solutions could take advantage of the new spectrum. To determine this we need to wait for the FCC to release their detailed technical rules for operation at these new frequencies. We expect this to happen towards the end of February at which point we will have more clarity on the question.”
via FCC adds spectrum to Wi-Fi—but you likely need a new router to use it | Ars Technica.